Friday, April 13, 2012

Monkey Bill, Creation, and Evolution

Rachel Held Evans has written a passionate post on her blog that addresses Tennessee's "Monkey Bill" and the need for Christians to engage intelligently with science, particularly in the young earth/evolution concerns. It’s worth reading. I really like her work.

It caused me to think about something this morning: The destruction to the Bible’s creation account in Genesis 1-2 was not brought about by scientists; it was brought about by the folks who demanded that these opening chapters of the Bible were intended to scientifically explain where everything came from. In other words, it came from the very religious folks who intended to preserve the faith.

I say this because the creation account in Genesis is not scientific; it is theological. It takes a fairly common, iron-age view of the cosmos (with the earth as relatively flat, covered by a celestial dome punctuated by greater and lesser lights) and reframes it as a theological narrative.

Keep in mind that the first hearers of this story were not ancient biology students trying to understand first beginnings. They were people formed generationally by the slave culture of Egypt, a place where the dominant deity was the sun god, Ra (personified by the Pharaoh). In the Exodus story, the ancient Hebrews encounter Yahweh as their redeemer. Through Moses, this mysterious God rescues the people from the bonds of the Pharaoh.

The Genesis creation account then makes a startling claim: This redeemer God is no territorial deity, not the toughest of the pantheon who was able to beat the god of Egypt. No, this redeemer God is also the creator God—and there is only one God. To make the point even sharper, the sun itself is demoted to the fourth day of creation. Things actually get along pretty well in the emerging world before the sun even shows up on the scene.

The screaming and yelling about the need for Genesis 1-2 to be a literal, cosmological description of creation, one that trumps all scientific inquiry and discovery, allows the theological significance and beauty of the text to be ignored. This is a tragic loss.

The argument actually rests on the demand that the account in Genesis must be taken literally, or else the Bible isn’t the real word of God. People really need to work on this demand. Truth is not necessarily conveyed in terms of scientific fact; it is often conveyed in story (think of Jesus’ parables) and song (think of the Psalms). The biblical creation account is part of that great, ancient genre of story telling.

We really need to think about what we’re trading off in these debates.

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